Continuing the list of the best driving albums of 2011, this time it’s E through K.
Ed Sheeran – +
Ed Sheeran has his fair share of haters but I consider myself immune from this prejudice thanks to the manner in which I first encountered his music. My initial listen was to “You Need Me I Don’t Need You” on a road trip in Arizona, USA last summer. I appreciated the track and subsequently the whole album for what it was without having it shoved down my throat by British commercial radio.
Ed’s lyrics are fresh, clever and work brilliantly with his original music. Having first heard his music on the best road trip of my life, I couldn’t not include this album on the list. There are plenty of hit singles – “Lego House”, “The A Team”, “U.N.I.” and the new one “Drunk” – but the album sounds great as a whole too and there isn’t a dull moment.
Example – Playing in the Shadows
Yes, I know, I promised not to make this list too mainstream and maybe I am struggling with that a little. But it’s impossible to ignore Example just now. I am assured than in real life the man is a complete tool but that doesn’t stop his second album being a blinder. Hit follows hit and even the album tracks have a production quality that is just taken that extra level higher. From “Skies Don’t Lie” onwards it’s entrancing – just try not to swerve the wheel too much in time to the Laidback Luke collaboration “Natural Disaster” or “Changed the Way You Kissed Me”.
If you are driving somewhere on a Friday or Saturday night, why gamble on the radio? Put this album on and assure yourself of being pumped for that epic night by the time it starts. It’s like pre-drinking in your car but without the dangerous, illegal side.
Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra
Now here is something a little different. This is the next generation of sampling, rapping and beautiful vocals. Frank Ocean’s mix tape left people desperate for more and his album later in the year did not disappoint.
“Strawberry Swing” was used to open Zane Lowe’s breakfast show on Radio 1 in January, whilst “Novacane” is also a standout track.
Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam
This album wins the award for best name of the year. “Us Against Whatever Ever” will really get under your skin whilst “Gaaasp”’s addictive drone will hypnotise you into a trance-like state, perfect for those long lonely drives where you just need to hear something different.
Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
So I listened to this record for the first time with a friend and we were both astonished by how much it developed and changed as the album progressed. If ever there was an argument for seeing an album through and not judging by the opening tracks, this is it. “Honey Bunny” is a fantastic start to the album and has definite Beach Boys vibes. Personally, I dig that – Best Coast’s eponymous album was one of my highlights of 2010 as, like the Beach Boys, it can transport you from a cold British winter to a summertime Los Angeles.
My friend does not enjoy hearing Beach Boys-esque tracks when checking out new music, though, which is fair enough. But within a few tracks he had completely re-evaluated the album. It takes you on such a journey, which makes it the perfect driving album, touching on everything from vibrant textbook driving music in “Die” to the lo-fi ballad in “Forgiveness”. Even the second half of “Die” is completely unlike the start of the track. By the time it has finished, you’ll want to hear it all over again just to check it really was all the same record.
Kanye West and Jay Z – Watch the Throne
Wow. That was my reaction to this long awaited album. Let’s get the negatives out the way first. This is not “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” – Kanye West’s 2010 return (post-2009 VMAs Taylor Swift controversy) was probably one of the greatest albums of the last 20 years or so. But it does mark possibly the most exciting collaboration of our time which crucially did not fail to live up to the massive, massive hype. And like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it genuinely gets better with every listen.
From the beginning then, we have “No Church in the World”, where we first witness the clash of the two biggest egos in, well, the world probably. They have done something clever here, though, and invited a third party in the shape of Frank Ocean, whose album Nostalgia, Ultra can be found elsewhere in this list. Within a couple of minutes, we’ve already referenced God, Jesus and life itself over the most urgent, exciting bass line at the start of any album I can remember. The way it builds back from Ocean’s vocals into lyrics that just announce a massive presence commands huge respect thanks to audacious lines such as “coke on her black skin made a stripe like a zebra/I call that jungle fever”.
Next up Beyonce’s guesting on “Lift Off”, chatting some nonsense about taking it to the stars whilst samples of a NASA lift off countdown are cleverly incorporated. And that’s when the album gets really good. “Nggas in Paris” is impossible not to move to, it really does grab you and slap you in the face with its mesmerising beat. And that dubstep bass line towards the end? Oh my days… The cleverest part of the whole album occurs on this track, too. Did you ever think you would hear a Jay-Z or Kanye album become truly self-ironic and postmodern in its deprecation of its own raison d’être? Well, this one does. Just as it’s all got a bit ridiculous with Prince William referenced followed by the line “got my nggas in Paris”, the song breaks down and a nerdy voice asks the question you suddenly realise you have been afraid to ask without even knowing it. “I don’t even know what that means” is answered by a deep angry voice “no one knows what it means, it’s provocative”. “No it’s not” the nerd begins before being cut off with “it gets the people GOING”. It’s a very clever moment that tells you the writers of this album knew exactly what they were doing and know exactly where you are at for any stage of listening to this album – everything is meticulously planned in this masterpiece of modern audio. Suddenly it’s okay not to truly understand the lyrics and your appreciation of the song as a whole is instantly greatened.
Next up is “Gotta Have It” and more contemporary icons are mentioned like Lebron James, the most paid basketball player ever who in 2010 famously signed for the Miami Heat from Ohio and became one of the most high-profile sportsmen of all time, making this album seem very of its time, like other Kanye records particularly. The start of “Gotta Have It” is very unique and hilariously the chorus of “whatchoo need” sounds a lot like “gotcha knee”. This leads to a brilliant car game I made up where you grab the knee of someone else in the car whenever this line is played. Yes, I was very bored… The next track “New Day” sees Kanye talk of wishing his son an “easy life” as opposed to a “Yeezy life” (Yeezy being the Chicago rapper’s nickname) before “That’s My B*tch” brings back the obnoxious bass line to have you driving like a gangster. I could go on, but frankly this album is too big to put into words and do justice to. You just have to strap yourself in, press play and see where it takes you. This is probably one of only two albums on this list I listen to daily as it’s so addictive.
Next time: Kap Slapp, Kasabian, Low, M83, PJ Harvey, Portugal. The Man, Red Hot Chili Peppers, St Vincent, tUnE yArDs, Wild Beasts, Wu Lyf and Yuck.